Drawing Conventions

Drawing is the primary tool architects use to communicate their ideas about the qualities, characteristics and experience of the spaces and structures they imagine.

Drawing is a language. Like any language, we must study and understand it to use it well.

Architectural drawing has particular conventions or ways of communicating information. When used correctly, they will enhance the communication and understanding of your design projects.

Conventions are a particular way in which something is done.

While it is possible to develop our unique style of drawing, we must do this within the frameworks of architectural drawing conventions.

When we use conventions, someone can instantly look at our drawing, understand much of what we are saying, and then review or interpret the design.

When we do not use conventions, the viewer will find it difficult to understand what you say.

It is like writing an essay or a novel. We must first understand the language we are writing in. Suppose we cannot construct a word or a sentence. In that case, people will struggle to know what we are trying to say before even understanding and assessing the whole story.

Conventions are part of the architectural language. We must understand them and use them correctly in all our drawings.

Design Drawings Versus Working Drawings

The conventions apply to both design drawings and working drawings. However, it is essential to understand that these two different drawings communicate different things.

Design drawings are used in the early stages to communicate ideas about the building, structure and spaces. We may have to test, explore and convince clients about what we are trying to achieve. Design drawings should describe the experience and physical qualities and characteristics of the spaces and structure and the three-dimensional experience of the users as much as possible. We use a range of orthographic, isometric and perspective drawings to do this.

Learn more… “An Introduction To Architectural Drawing Systems

Working Drawings serve a different purpose. They communicate to the builder how to build and make the design into the final structure. The builder

One of the big mistakes students make is confusing working drawing conventions and design drawing conventions on their work. Design drawings end up looking like construction details, which are very different.

01 | Navigation: Sheet Labels, Cross-References And Drawing Names

Before we develop our drawings and design, we want to ensure the navigation through your drawing set is straighforward. This applies to both your work-in-progress and final presentation drawings. This includes:

  • Sheet Labels – Make sure every drawing is labelled with your name, the project, date, student number, drawing or sketch number etc. It can be easily identified if it gets lost, misplaced, or mixed up with someone else’s work.
  • Drawing Names –  Make sure every drawing is given a unique and unmistakable name early in the project. This name remains consistent throughout all versions of your drawing. For example, Ground Floor Plan, First Floor Plan, Basement Plan, Elevation 1, Elevation 2, Section A, Section B.
    • Elevations should use numbers 1,2,3,4 or the North, South, East and West direction they face.
    • Sections should use letters A, B, C, D.
  • Cross-References – Include elevation references and section cuts on your plans. Make sure they coordinate with the Drawing Names created.
  • Room Names – Include clear room names either on the drawing, or numbered with a  legend or key to the side.

A typical student mistake is not labelling any drawings or drawing pages and excluding cross-references. This wastes valuable tutorial and presentation time trying to figure out which plan is which, which is the North elevation, or where the section was cut, rather than talking about the work. These decisions should be made early on and appear on every drawing!!

02 | Line Types

Line types communicate information about the elements we are designing and how they relate to one another in space.

There are three line types you need to include in all your drawings:

  • Solid (seen) – This shows the outlines of seen objects or elements. We can also use solid lines in a thinner line weight for hatching.
  • Dashed (hidden) – Shows hidden or removed elements. For example, a dashed line on a plan can show the roof outline above, a basement or floor underneath or something behind.
  • Long-dash/ short-dash (reference) – Shows invisible reference points that exist and are essential but cannot see. For example, long-dash/ short-dash lines are used for boundaries, structural grid layouts and floor level datums on plans, sections and elevations.

We need to be accurate with line types so that the viewer can read a plan and understand where the dashed line of the roof above is located on the section or elevation.

A typical student mistake is to leave off the site boundary on plans, sections and elevations, which are an essential reference for the viewer to understand the context of the drawing. They also misuse line types. Study examples and think about what you are communicating in your drawing.

03 | Line Weights

One of the critical conventions you need to include in ALL your architecture drawings is line weights or thicknesses.

Line weights give hierarchy and depth to our drawings. Without a variation of line weights, our drawings appear flat and lifeless.

Line weights do not have to be complicated. Just because a computer software can create an infinite number of line weights does not mean you have to. You can create any architectural drawing with four, maybe five at the most, line weights:

  • Solid (seen) – This shows the outlines of seen objects or elements. We can also use solid lines in a thinner line weight for hatching.
  • Dashed (hidden) – Shows hidden or removed elements. For example, a dashed line on a plan can show the roof outline above, a basement or floor underneath or something behind.
  • Long-dash/ short-dash (reference) – Shows invisible reference points that exist and are essential but cannot see. For example, long-dash/ short-dash lines are used for boundaries, structural grid layouts and floor level datums on plans, sections and elevations.

04 | Hatch

We use hatching to communicate information about materials, textures and finishes.

Hatching is usually done in one of the thinnest line weights. It is secondary and supporting information to the outline of elements. It can be used on surfaces in plans and elevations or to show the materials of cut parts in sections.

Remember, hatching is supporting information, so the drawing should still communicate on its own if you take it away.

Common student mistake is using construction or working drawing hatching on design drawings without understanding what each hatch means. Hatching is used very differently in these two drawing types. Remember, design drawings are about communicating the experience and qualities and characteristics. Working Drawings are about communicating how to build and put the pieces together.

Avoid hatching cut walls in building plans and sections in solid black. You need to see the linework, and the hatch should be supporting information. You could hatch the cut walls in a dark grey for design instead.

When you jump into scales like 1:5, 1:10 or 1:20, ensure your hatching communicates materials. However, the focus is still on the design aspects and experiences of the spaces and structure. Avoid turning your design details into construction details!!

05 | Symbols

Once your design is developing you need to add accurate symbols onto the drawings.

We draw certain architectural elements and objects in a particular way to easily recognise them.

The main symbols you need to be concerned with are doors, windows, sanitaryware such as sinks, baths and toilets, and furniture.

Study design drawings at different scales to understand how these different elements are drawn in plan, section and elevation. You want them to be recognizable so you do not waste time describing what they are.

06 | Key Dimensions And Setbacks

Distracting dimensions should not fill design drawings. However, depending on the project’s complexity, it is essential to include critical dimensions.

At a minimum, the overall site dimensions and allowed setback dimensions from the boundary should be included. You should show these consistently on plans, sections and elevations.

It may be essential to show some critical dimensions of the building form, such as overall plan length and width or building height, relating to the allowed setbacks.

You should assess each project and drawings independently to determine the critical dimensions required.

07 | Annotations

Annotations are text that describes or alerts the viewer to something in the drawing.

Annotations should be used sparingly in design drawings. Before you note a drawing, consider how you can communicate that through drawing instead.

If you use annotations or text, make sure it is discreet, consistent throughout the drawing set and has an arrow pointing specifically to the element you are referring to.

08 | Scale

Before we create any drawing, we must consider the scale we will use. We do this by understanding the size of the project and the level of information we need to communicate.

We may be restricted in laying out a drawing by the size or proportion of the page or sheet. In design, this is part of the process of communication.

One of the most prominent mistakes students make is squashing their drawing to fit the page or using an odd scale such as 1:300 or 1:75. No! No! No!

We must use the standard architecture scales of 1:5, 10,20, 50,100, 200, 500, 1000 etc.

We must use the correct scale on the page, either digitally or hard copy. And, we must communicate the scale through one or two of these three ways:

  • Scale Bar – These are shown on a drawing and represent a printed scale like a scale ruler. They adjust automatically and proportionally when a drawing page is shrunk or enlarged. They immediately allow the viewer to understand the scale.
  • Human Body – Showing a human body on a drawing immediately gives the reader an indication of the scale. Make sure your bodies are scaled to the correct size!! About 1.6-1.7m for an adult will work well.
  • Written Scale – Within each drawing title on a drawing page or sheet, you can include the scale of that drawing or detail. For example, 1:20 on A3. This is not ideal, especially for digital work or if the drawing is printed on a different size sheet.

Learn more… “How To Use An Architectural Scale Ruler”

09 | North Point

All plans show North up the page in Australia and should be consistent on plan drawings of all scales.

Discreetly include a North arrow on all plan drawings. It can show true North if the plan is at an angle on the page to face North directly up. Alternatively, it can show project North, which will be angled if the plan is rotated to fit straight on the page.

10 | Render

Render is the last convention to be applied to a design drawing. This should be done once all the linework is complete.

Architectural drawings should still stand alone and communicate everything you need to as a black and white line drawing without any render.

One of the biggest student mistakes is to present 3D model views as an architectural drawing. In many universities and practices, this will not be acceptable. We need to communicate through traditional architectural drawing conventions, not model renders.

Consistency And Unique Style

Your design drawing should communicate in a style that is unique t you, your design approach and the project.

The best way to understand how to create a unique style for your design drawing is to gather examples and compare the differences between design drawings and working drawings.

In the meantime, use the above as a checklist for your design drawings.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the ride.

Liz at ArchiMash


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